This week’s Woolwich mayoral debate wasn’t much of a, well, debate.
The four candidates agreed on almost every question thrown their way, on subjects like population growth, amalgamated fire services and infrastructure funding. About 60 people filed into the community room at Woolwich Memorial Centre on October 1 to see what the candidates had to say in response to questions drafted by the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, which organized the event moderated by Glenn Pelletier of 570 News.It was the second such public forum for Bonnie Bryant, Todd Cowan, Doug Hergott and Sandy Shantz. Like the first, it was a sedate affair.
Not surprisingly, a number of the questions had a business flavour to them. For instance, the candidates were asked what they would do to help bring in new business and investment to the township.
“What I’ve done and what I will continue to do is, first of all we can’t just attract new business, we have to retain the businesses that we have,” Cowan said. “As we’ve seen in the Waterloo Region big plants like Schneiders close up and leave.”
Hergott was of much the same opinion.
“What we need to do is retain the businesses that we have,” Hergott said. “We need to support the businesses that we have and we need to listen to what they’re saying.”
Bryant pointed to the need to develop employment land to allow the township to accommodate new industry looking to come to the area. She noted Elmira has 31 hectares of employment land, and only 12 hectares of those are shovel ready. Breslau has 97 hectares with only 16 of those ready to go.
“We need to find the talent out there and we need to attract it to come in here and start building these new businesses,” Bryant said.
Shantz said she’d be interested in partnering with one of the universities for agricultural research, or something similar.
“To have good economic development we need to build on our strengths and one of the strengths that we have are our beautiful green spaces,” Shantz said.
When asked about how the township should deal with population growth, Bryant said Woolwich needs to grow in a managed, controlled manner in order to continue to provide the necessary services. Shantz agreed, noting infrastructure has to be able to keep up with a growing community. Cowan said there are 1,700 homes being built in Elmira as we speak, and managed growth is important. Hergott emphasized that bigger is not always better.
“I’m hearing we have a $67 million deficit in infrastructure,” Hergott said. “So more people, more problems, more roads, more traffic. It needs to be a balanced approach.”
The candidates did have different ideas around what rural issues they would bring to the regional council as mayor.
Shantz said she’d like to look into changing the bus route to Elmira and potentially extend the service to Breslau. She said the heavy truck traffic through Elmira on Arthur Street is also a regional issue because it’s a regional road. Cowan said EMS response times are lower than the average for rural areas and police times aren’t quick enough either. He said the rural transfer station is another issue they need to look at.
Bryant said police presence isn’t strong enough in places like Breslau where there were car break-ins the night before.
All of the candidates agreed, when asked, that they didn’t agree with merging all the fire departments to create a regional service similar to what was done with policing four decades ago.
“One full-time firefighter in the city of Kitchener, Waterloo, or Cambridge would operate one of our entire fire departments for a year,” said Cowan of the financial cost. “We have one of the best fire services in the area. We’ve had very few major losses that we would be able to save.”
The candidates explained their ideas for addressing the infrastructure challenge.
“We have so much aging infrastructure,” Bryant said. “We’re going to be very limited in what we can do without huge tax increases.”
She said we need to rely on the provincial and federal government to help fund local infrastructure. Shantz echoed those sentiments, and said they need projects that are ready to go ahead when the government announces available funding.
Cowan said the township does a roads needs study every four years to see where they’re at. Woolwich Township added an infrastructure levy to help offset the deficit, he added.
Hergott reiterated his catchphrase that bigger’s not always better. He said the township needs to get creative and look for ways to save money.
“There’s a lot of smart people out there with a lot of good ideas, we just need to hear them,” Hergott said.
Voters head to the polls across the province on Oct. 27. Advance polls in Woolwich will be October 7 at the WMC (12-8 p.m.), October 9 at the Breslau Community Centre (3-9 p.m.), and October 18 at the Woolwich Township office (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
There are no additional Woolwich mayoral debates scheduled at this time, nor forums for any of the ward races.